Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dorothy King on "Kosher Collecting"

Dorothy King is busily reflecting on what constitutes "looted" antiquities with plans to create a database of individual items known or suspected to be looted . The main use of this seems to me likely to be to help collectors avoid embarrassment by putting items they may have unwisely acquired and are found in lists of known (but missing) looted items on open sale. She says that in discussions of this database in her circle of acquaintances, the recently opened Mougins Museum of Classical-themed pricey bric-a-brac is a "hot topic". She says that "everyone I know that has seen the Museum has been enthusiastic about the project" (and makes sure her readers know she's met both the collection's owner and museum's director).

One of the points I made earlier about the database of looted artefacts Dr King is constructing is the lack of clarity about how to define "looted" artefacts and a comment on the Mougins Museum sheds some light on her own thoughts on the matter. Among other things, Dr King states that the Museum's creators:
have a strict policy of 20 to 25 years' provenance for lesser items and 40+ years' provenance for more important antiquities. [...] The Mougins Museum of Classical Art is a genuine attempt to create a kosher collection of antiquities with good collecting histories and to share those antiquities with the public. For that reason I feel we should fully support I[t].
It would be easier to support (should one be so-minded) this kind of initiative if the website and publicity material would not only state up-front that there is an acquisitions policy, but what it is and why. If this material is all of "kosher", licit origin, what is to stop them making sure those secure provenances and collecting histories are given on the website to bring that point home to the public they want to encourage to visit? At the moment not a single object figured there has any information about where - even in broad terms - it comes from. They are just disembodied artefacts floating in the context created by Mr Levitt's imagination. In the absence of anything like this it is difficult to say how "kosher" (or indeed authentic) any of this is.

Dr King adds:
I suspect that some of these provenances will in due course turn out to have been figments of the dealers' imagination,
which is why its not the story which provides legitimacy, but documented - and thus verifiable - collecting histories as has been repeatedly stressed by archaeological preservationists and repeatedly and recklessly ignored by collectors and dealers in their dealings with artefacts in past decades.

But really, a collecting history of 20-25 years of course takes you back only to at the most 1986, which though it predates large-scale Internet-trading of so-called "minor antiquities" and the 1995 Geneva-warehouse seizure of 1995, is certainly no guarantee whatsoever that an item has not been illicitly obtained, is it? The Icklingham Bronzes for example came onto the market in 19981/2, the Euphronios Krater a decade earlier, Hecht and Medici were active in the 1980s, and there is no reason to believe that other major players were too. In the coin world Bruce ("Fun While it Lasted") McNall had made by his own admission a fortune selling looted coins and artefacts before the decade had begun. The fact that we know that an object had been "in a collection" 25 years ago does not make it any the less a looted artefact.

What are the documented collecting histories of the antiquities accumulated in the "kosher" collection of the Mougins Museum of Classical Art put together by Christian Levett?
Vignette: The question every antiquity collector should ask, is it kosher?


kyri said...

paul,in a recent interview christian levette says
"the main thing i look for in making a purchase is first the provenance and second whether the item is real or not.without both of these being proven the item realy isnt worth very much and could be more of a liability than an asset".
on the crosby garrete helmet fiasco he reaveals that he did bid on it and he adds
"id felt that any collector who bought it would do so with the recognition of its rarity and national importance and must be prepared to put it on public display"
for me these two quotes tell me everything you need to know about the guy,a collector of the 21st centuary,willing to share his collection with anyone and everyone,a collector who is trying his best to collect ethically,
everything ,in my eyes a modern collector should be.another thing is that he has only been collecting antiquities for about 10-15 years anyone with one brain cell can easily trace every single item he has in his collection[i for one can tell you were nearly everysingle greek pot was purchased ,when and were and for how much]most of the ancient armour came from the guttmann collection [i should know as i was the under bidder on a few of his pieces]all of which are published.
my own personal opinion of christian levette is that he is a model collector and archaeologist should be putting him forward as an example of how collecting antiquities in this day and age should be done,not making snide remarks and innuendos.what he has done is admirable and i admire the guy for his ahcievements also dr.mark merrony [whom i have met on several ocasions]who is the museum curator is no mug and knows the pitfalls of illicit material entering the museum,you wont find a more knowledgeable and more decent guy than him,they both deserve a big pat on the back.
ps,why are you getting on dorothy kings back,at least she is trying to do something,allthough i believe it to be an impossible task.

Paul Barford said...

Hi Kyri,
I guessed you'd be the first to comment.

The Crosby Garrett helmet on display with the rest of his collection in France?

To answer the last question first. If discussing somebody's ideas is considered "getting on their back", so be it. I think the way she seems to be going about this (making a nuisance of herself with Freedom of Information demands and doing the planning after she's started, not before), and the idea itself, to be wrong-headed. The reasons for this (your "why") are set out in some detail in my post.

In the second post, I am pointing out that I also think she's getting awfully muddled saying in one post that the cut-off date for looted material must be the 1930s, to get the "Jewish" stuff (not quite sure how she wants to define that) and then says a collecting history of 20-25 years is "OK" to get something off the hook. So which is it and why? I think these are questions that should be asked, don't you?

And I'd prefer to discuss it on my own piece of the Internet rather than on her bit where I got called a "Nazi" and then blocked from replying for wanting to discuss the uses of redundant religious buildings after restoration.

"anyone with one brain cell can easily trace every single item he has in his collection[i for one can tell you were nearly every single greek pot was purchased ,when and were and for how much]"
So why does he not reveal to a wider public that collecting history if other collectors already know?

It seems to me that ethical collecting these days requires that transparency (nota bene the same transparency collectors are demanding from governments) to separate the sheep from the goats, the Righteous from the Damned.

As I pointed out, there is not a single word in the publicity material that accompanied the setting up and opening of the museum on acquisition policy. In not a single case on the website is anything said about the origins of the antiquities, which suggests to the enquiring observer (i.e., anyone concerned about this type of collecting) that nobody knows or cares. I am glad to hear from you that this is not so.

I have not seen the interview, and you do not say where it can be found (let me guess, "Minerva"?). Does it say what he or his agents regarded as good provenance?

"most of the ancient armour came from the guttmann collection [i should know as i was the under bidder on a few of his pieces] all of which are published." Well, it is not mere "publication" that is in question here. And where did Mr Guttmann get his stuff from? I seem to recall some doubts about the origins of some of the Guttmann pieces being expressed (either at the time of the sale or subsequently, I can't recall at the moment).

"archaeologist should be putting him forward as an example of how collecting antiquities in this day and age should be done"
well, if he makes the details of the collecting histories of his objects available and they demonstrate that he has displayed an exemplary due diligence, I'd certainly be the first to do that. We need some paragons of virtue to hold up to show the could-not-care-less oiks that it can be done. Wile this aspect of his collecting activities are as hidden as the rest of them, then it gives me no real reason to consider him as superior to the rest, does it? At the moment we are just offered a Kunstkammer full of disembodied artefacts with no information about how they "surfaced". Nothing new in that, that's the problem.

[So you do not accuse me of "innuendo", I still doubt whether that apeman relief comes off the wall of a real fifth dynasty tomb.]

kyri said...

you are certainly no nazi and i for one am against blocking anyone from a group as i believe in freedom of speach, i like to hear all sides so i can form an for dorothy king you are coming across a bit derogatory towards her,again just my opinion.i agree with you going back to the 30s is an imposible task,it would be hard enough with recently looted stuff never mind 70 years for christian levette,with your silence i gather that you agree with me that he is a model collector,if there is such a thing in your eyes.he certainly dose ask questions and the way he is putting all his stuff on public display certainly shows that he has nothing to for the 25-30 years provenance,as i have said to you befor,its not perfect but it is about as good as it gets on most pieces as this is when dealers ect started to take provenance of a piece seriously. 20 years ago provenance of a piece did not have the same importance that it has today and anonymous sales were the norm.
ps i have sothebys catalogs from the 1930s-1940s,there were hundreds of pieces for sale and many of them were anonymous sales but those pieces are still out there somewere.


kyri said...

i wrote my responce before the whole of yours was up.his interview was in minerva,may/june page,50,it might be available on the minerva you know he also owns minerva magazine.
like i said all his pieces are recently bought and tracing their provenance is easy.i know you think 25-30 years is not good enough but at least the piece was not dug up yesterday as they were in the getty ect.i think that putting on their website an index with each piece listed with its provenance is a good idea and i might email mark merrony to suggest that,as i said they have nothing to hide ,they were buying with as much due dilligence as is possible.

Mo said...

I do not think that any hedge fund manager can be described as "ethical". The words do not go together.

This man makes money from the process of "selling short". Betting on falling markets. This process exacerbated the problems with the sub prime debt crisis as hedge fund managers were betting on the fall of sub prime debt.

These fund managers have reduced the capital markets to the level of a casino and they are partially responsible for the financial mess that the country is in today.

They manipulate the markets and are only interested in making money without any thought to the companies or lives that they destroy in the process. (Cadburys being a prime example).

The sooner the Government puts measures in place to stop some of their practices the better.


Mo said...

If Christian Levett thinks in any way that by displaying a few artifacts it compensates for the chaos that his ilke have caused in the financial markets he can think again.

Paul Barford said...

I feel it's more like "look at me!" and the video in the Egyptian section is to show he's not lost the common touch.

kyri said...

mo,i agree with you but we are not talking about the ethics of a hedge fund manager but the ethics of collecting antiquities,this guy is very passionate about his collection.he started collecting
ww2 medals when he was a boy and i believe his passion for ancient art /history is genuine and not for show.

Paul Barford said...

"Being passionate" is neither here nor there, young men have a passion for driving fast, but it would be more than a tad unethical to do it through the middle of Warsaw.

I think Mo's point was the view that some people seem to have that having a lot of money entitles them to do things others might baulk at.

In a post this morning I addressed the problem of this "25 year" mark with specific regard to two pots in this guy's collection and their relationship to the Geddes collection (see Looting Matters).

The collecting of WW2 medals is of course not without its ethical pitfalls, for example 18 U.S.C. § 704(b), "Unlawful Sale of a Medal of Honor"...

kyri said...

i read the posts by david gill concerning the geddes collection.when geddes was buying from sothebys in the 80s he was doing so in good faith no one at the time would have believed that sothebys would be doing anything unethical.geddes was buying from one of the most respected auction houses in the world and was relying on sothebys due dilligence,how is that geddes fault,he was paying premium prices at a premium auction house.the only people to blame are the dealers/auction houses not the collector.the problem with antiquities is that they are guilty in your eyes till they are prooven inocent,the only items in the art world that are treated this way.
greats like sir john boardman,trendal and many more have no problem with people collecting ancient art,in fact there are many archaeologists that help guide a collector as trendal did with geddes.even if geddes volute krater did materealise on the market in 1985,whose to say that it wasnt in some private collection 100 years before that.the whole point is that anonymous sales were the norm back than,they are not now,in fact i think you will strugle to find any anonymous sales in a christies ,sothebys or bonhams fact boardman goes even further and says that many archaeologists are guilty of never publishing some of their excavations and im sure you dont need me to go on about what he thinks of
"orphan antiquities"
apart from that it is an opposite view to the one held by you,so find spot is not the be all and end all of a piece.many of these pieces may have been excavated by archaeologists in a controlled dig and than somehow either through partage,or by some other means enterd the market.dorothy king also makes the point that medici,robyn symes and others also handled perfectly good pieces with long provenances so we cant just say that everything is guilty by association,as you are doing.i dont like to sound like a broken record but,in a nut shell,25-30 years provenance is as good as it gets for most pieces and the simple reason for this is that records were simply not a necessity than as they are now.

Mo said...

Christian Levett was a top trader with a hedge fund before he formed his own company. I am not saying that he crossed the line but I guess that he must have been close to earn the level that he did.

Cadburys which although not an artifact was a part of our British heritage. It was targeted by the hedge funds and when a hostile takeover came the hedge funds being the largest shareholders voted for a takeover by Kraft. They then would have been paid out and made money on the deal. The Government stood idly by and allowed it to happen.

The hedge fund managers did not care about what happened to the employees of Cadburys or the fact that the product may be cheapened they just wanted a quick buck.

I think that a lot of these people who have made large sums of money from managing hedge funds and trading will buy artifacts just because they can. They also see it as another form of wealth management.

So when I read the article that makes out that Christian Levett has built this museum for altruistic reasons I don't buy into it.

Mo said...

"He is surprised that prices for antiquities are still so low compared with those for impressionist or contemporary art, although they have risen in the past 12 months. In 2008 he paid £600,000 for his Hadrian statue; today it would cost him a few million."

The reason that Christian Levett is concerned about the provenance of an artifact is that it affects the value.

It's all about management of wealth and wealth creation so lets not make out that he is a philanthropist.

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